Guest post for Notes From Africa, by 2Summers
I’m an American ex-pat – I’ve been living in Johannesburg for the last nine months. I’m also a fervent cat-lover. I left two wonderful cats behind when I moved here. They’re in very loving, capable hands but I still miss them every day.
When I read Lisa’s recent post, What Your Cat Wants You to Know – Really?, I was compelled to comment. The post discusses a topic that has always interested me and has become especially relevant since I moved to South Africa: the indoor-outdoor cat controversy. Lisa invited me to write a guest post presenting an American perspective on this issue and I accepted with pleasure.
I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, in a semi-rural area about an hour from Washington, D.C. Our cats divided their time between inside and out, but they were mostly out. Sometimes bad things happened to our cats – at least one was run over by a car and another one fell off of something (I can’t remember what) and broke his leg. The leg eventually had to be amputated. Our dogs also came in and out as they pleased and often met untimely deaths. My parents never considered bringing the animals in full-time though. It’s just not the way things were done at that time, in that part of the world.
(My dad still lives in the house I grew up in and he still has indoor-outdoor cats. His oldest kitty, Satchmo, is nearly 20 and going strong. Satchmo is by far the longest-living pet Dad has ever had.)
Over the last couple of decades in the U.S., the conventional wisdom on how to provide the best life for a housecat has changed, especially in urban and suburban areas. Letting cats outside is considered dangerous to the cat and potentially destructive to the natural environment. Unless you live in a rural area, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a vet who would recommend letting your cat outside. Animal rights groups and shelters advocate vehemently against it, and the majority of urban and suburban cat owners wouldn’t think of letting their cats run free.
One of my favorite blogs, the Cult of Otis, is written from the point of view of an American domestic cat. Otis and his brothers never go outside and his “Guardians” are very much against the idea. Check out Otis’ blog (which is hilarious, by the way), to learn more about the American indoor cat perspective. Also, here is some background from the Humane Society of the United States.
As an adult living in the D.C. suburbs, I had indoor cats. They were only allowed out into the fenced-in backyard, and only under supervision so we could ensure they didn’t escape. Keeping the cats indoors was never a conscious decision for me. I first lived in an apartment complex, where letting cats outside was strictly prohibited. My next two houses were townhomes, where in theory I could have let my cats outside – there were a few neighbors who did so. But I never considered it. My cats escaped a couple of times and I was always terrified for their safety. And even though my cats loved visiting the backyard when given the chance, I think they were (and are) happy living an indoor life.
When I arrived in Joburg and moved to the suburb of Melville, I soon discovered that the cat situation here is different. I haven’t met a single South African with an indoor-only cat. Fwuffy (sic), the cat belonging to my neighbor who lives in the cottage attached to our house, goes in and out as he pleases, and other cats frequently visit our property (much to Fwuffy’s chagrin).
Several years ago I saw a television show on Animal Planet about how indoor-outdoor cats are the norm in the U.K., despite the fact that cats are wreaking havoc on native bird populations in some areas. (The RSPCA’s website provides a middle-of-the-road position on the issue but certainly doesn’t advocate for cats to stay indoors.) I thought it strange at the time.
But since my move, I understand better. First, window screens and storm doors don’t exist here, just as they don’t exist in the U.K., so it would be hard to keep your cat in even if you wanted to. Second, it’s nice to see Fwuffy prowling around outside and climbing the tree to reach his favorite lookout point on the roof. Third, I must admit that the cats around here seem to handle themselves pretty well outside. (Although how they navigate the massive electric fences that surround most houses is beyond me.)
Caveat: Although Melville is within the Joburg city limits, it is a much more cat-friendly environment than the outer suburb where I lived back in the States. The houses are more spread out and there is a lot more green space and less traffic. The weather is also far less harsh.
The big question: Having now been exposed to both sides of this hot-button issue, what is my current position?
The answer: I don’t know. But I really want a cat.
Text and photographs (unless otherwise specified) are © 2Summers.